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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter
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Analysis from Watchfire/ GomezPro: Addressing Customers’ Claim Needs Online

Auto insurance carriers' are focusing on building a Web site that easily and intuitively supports the varying needs of individual tasks. At no time is this more important than when a policyholder has just been in an automobile accident.

Many auto insurance policyholders rely on their carriers' Web site when they have specific policy support needs. In response, the carrier's focus has shifted from simply building a great site replete with useful capabilities to building a site that easily and intuitively supports the varying needs (education, policy-specific information, transaction, etc.) of individual tasks. At no time is this more important than when a policyholder has just been in an automobile accident.

The interaction with a customer after an accident is one of the most sensitive and significant a carrier is likely to have with their customer. The customer is typically in an emotional state and there is a wide range of questions, which the customer needs answered immediately. What should I do next? How do I file a claim? Should I call my agent? What information do I need? How does the process work and how long will it take? How will it affect my rates? How are inspections and repairs handled? What tools are available online for different parts of the process?

Recent research has shown that unsuccessful and negative online interactions impact a customer's impressions of not only the provider's Web site but its entire brand. As such, facilitating a positive online experience that is appropriately flexible and intuitive to support the myriad needs (education, information, transaction, follow-up, etc.) of policyholders is imperative.

This brief will explore just how successful the online experience at four major insurance carriers, (Allstate, Nationwide, Safeco and State Farm) is at supporting the needs of policyholders with different claims needs.

* When policyholders at Allstate reach its homepage they will not find anything related to claims in the center area of the page or in the primary navigation. However, they will find a Claims Center link at the top right-hand corner of the page. This brings the policyholder to a page that provides little information on automobile claims. There is only a phone number, an additional link for Auto and vague messaging. Selecting this link brings the customer to a page with six links for further information (e.g., What do I need to know? How do I report my claim? What's the claims handling process, etc.) Each link brings the user to an additional page that provides information, like what the policyholder needs to report a claim, what to expect from the claims rep and how claims affect rates. While the information provided is detailed and highly useful, it takes too many steps and too many pages to reach.

* From the Nationwideinsurance.com home page, Nationwide policyholders will find a Claims header in the center of the page with links to Report a Claim and Find a Repair Shop. When the user selects the Report a Claim option, they are brought to a page that provides a phone number and information that they will be able to submit a claim online (something that takes a minimum of three clicks at Allstate). Also helpful is text that specifies which types of claims (involving injury, etc.) should not be submitted online. However, the entire section is focused on the act of reporting a claim and not on the event itself. Nowhere on these first two pages does the carrier provide links to what information is important to have ready, how the process will work and what to expect. It also does not set expectations that this information may be presented on later pages. Valuable real estate that could address this is instead used to promote resources that are irrelevant to this user's specific task (billing, auto, homeowners and renters quotes, loan calculators, etc.). The customer is left with only two options -- vague links for Auto and "Home. Selecting Auto brings the user immediately into an online claims form without proper upfront messaging around required information to have on hand, time expectations, etc. More importantly, most customers will opt to file over the phone, and the information these individuals came online to find is neglected completely.

* From the Safeco home page customers are greeted with a prominent Claims Center header and text that includes the phone number to report a claim and a link to "What happens next?" As such, Safeco is able to communicate from its homepage that online filing is not supported. It provides a claims number and indicates that clicking a link will bring the customer to a page that provides information on the claims process and what to do next. However, upon clicking this link they are brought to a page that repeats the phone number (with hours of availability) and offers non-descriptive links for Automobile, Homeowners and three other policy types. This page does not follow through on the promise of providing information on what to do next. In fact, the only additional text leaves doubt about whether selecting the Automobile link will even deliver this information and merely promises to have the vehicle inspected and back on the road as soon as possible. While selecting the link does bring the client to a wealth of useful information around information needed to make a claim -- what will happen after a claim is submitted and how long the process takes, the inspection and repair process, etc.-- the process of arriving at it could be improved. Further, information pages are not linked so that a client can fluidly move from one to the next (such as Allstate does) -- instead they must rely on the back button each time they finish one section of information. Lastly, no information is provided suggesting online resources useful after they have submitted a claim (inspection and repair shop locator tools, claims tracking tools, etc.).

* State Farm features a link for Report a Claim in the most prominent area of its homepage, alongside links for quotes and log-in. Upon selecting this link, the subsequent page clearly states that auto claims can be submitted via agent or online and provides links to functionality that facilitates each. This is followed by links for claim options for annuity, catastrophe, life, health and long-term care insurance. The carrier also does well by using this early page to communicate that the policyholder can later take advantage of online tools for locating a claim office or repair shop and learning about the repair shop program. However, this page doesn't do enough to suggest what resources are available. Only two such links are available on this page ("What Should I do after an auto accident?" and "How does the claims process work?"). They also are located in separate areas of the page, included with links for home loss and Good Neighbor Service and are completely separate from any defined auto section of the page. While the information provided from these links is useful (Do jot down the details of the accident, Don't sign any documents not from the policy or your insurance agent), policyholders would benefit from more-detailed information and a more step-oriented overview of the claims process and their responsibilities.

The claims process is a complicated but highly important one for policyholders. Multiline carriers are challenged to provide a claims task flow that not only supports the divergent questions and objectives of auto policyholders, but also meets the needs of policyholders seeking claims information on different lines of insurance. However because auto insurance is the most frequent online claims need, carriers need to seek out opportunities to better route customers directly to an auto-specific claims experience right from the home page. Most users coming online are not looking to file a claim online. Rather, they are looking for answers and peace of mind. Intuitive, uncluttered navigation is at a premium. While different carriers have diverse strengths and weaknesses, all carriers could do a better job of anticipating the range of questions a recent accident participant will have and navigate them to the proper answers quickly and easily. All carriers can improve the design in which they lay out their information online. Carriers that focus on the specific needs of this paramount customer interaction and successfully provide an intuitive online experience will be rewarded two-fold with a deeper customer relationship and customer loyalty.

Tim Carpenter is an insurance industry analyst with Watchfire GómezPro in Waltham, MA. He can be reached at [email protected]

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